Ah, gender issues and roleplaying. There’s no better way to get people to come out of the woodwork and call you sexist. Even an innocuous question of “As a man, how can I roleplay a woman better?” on RPG Stack Exchange brings the drooling Birkenstock wearers (usually men, of course) out of the woodwork to claim sexism on the part of someone who would dare ask such a question and on anyone who would answer it. A man plays a female character? Sexist. Include sex in your game? Sexist. Have a female NPC in your game that’s weak, or strong, or hot, or ugly, or sexual, or cold? Sexist. Have a straight woman? Sexist. A gay woman? Sexist. For a man, it’s always tempting to say “Hey, the age of sexism is over; we had all the women’s lib stuff and we’re all equal now, everything left is just people being politically correct because it satisfies some demented jones they have to be a twerp; probably they want to feel morally superior to someone but don’t actually have very good morals so this is all they can think of.”
But then I read stuff like this article about “the Star Wars girl.” As part of a Chicago Now series by a woman who adopted a little girl, she relates a story about the bullying her first grade daughter received by the little boys when she took a Star Wars water bottle to school because it’s a “boy” item. She begged her mom to let her take a pink water bottle instead so that she’d have a “girl” one and they wouldn’t tease her. It’s heartbreaking. The story’s spread like wildfire and hundreds of nerd girls and other supporters have been leaving comments wishing her well.
I have a young daughter myself, and have seen this exact same syndrome. She was happy to play with whatever she wanted, until kids at school started telling her things were “boy toys” or “girl toys.” At McDonalds with the Happy Meal, they ask you “Boy toy or girl toy?” When my daughter told me remote control cars were “boy toys” I asked her why she thought that, and she said “Well, in all the commercials it’s just boys playing with them.” And it just gets worse from there. She wanted to play in the coed flag football league in our neighborhood rec league. And so she did, but it turned out she was the only girl to sign up. And the boys on her team teased her, teased each other about having their flag pulled by a girl, or talking to a girl… She stuck out the season because I raised her right, but she told me she didn’t plan to go back. And it all makes me angry. I try to stress to her she can do anything she wants, but she gets the opposite message from so many sources.
People talk about why there’s not more women in roleplaying. Oh, it’s because there’s too much fighting in the games. Or the color schemes aren’t pink, or because some character’s in a chainmail bikini. Or it’s because you don’t exclusively use the right pronoun in the writing. Those things may arguably be flaws, but that’s not what’s doing it. Women are actively hazed out of roleplaying and in fact out of many related “nerd” pursuits in general, starting in the first grade.
Some “nerd” pursuits you can at least take up and enjoy solo, like reading Harry Potter books or whatnot. From a bullying point of view, you just have to not let on. But roleplaying is an intrinsically social activity (like sports), which means a huge barrier to entry and opportunity for hazing.
I’ve met way more women on World of Warcraft than in all the roleplaying events I’ve ever been to put together. Is it because there’s more fluffy ponies in WoW? No, it’s because there’s less the freaks can do to make their life miserable since it’s virtual and their gender is concealed until they explicitly state it.
And hey, some people believe in different gender roles. I’m not saying that any gender differentiation is bad. If you believe women shouldn’t serve in front line combat, or in a marriage they should be primarily responsible for childrearing, fine. But should they really be made to feel bad about liking Star Wars? Does that follow, in some bizarro logic land?
Is it a coincidence the most prominent of the very few female gaming groups out there is comprised of porn actresses? Or is it just that it takes nearly that level of habitual “not caring what anyone else says about you” and defiance of cultural mores to be able to unabashedly enjoy roleplaying?
Anyway, if you want to worry about sexism, stop obsessing over how the color yellow subjugates women or whatever dizzy shit you say to try to look all PC. Instead, start focusing on what you – and your kids – do to people who try to get into roleplaying, related nerdery, or anything in general really. That’s the real place where the rubber hits the road and the majority of real sexism is being perpetrated nowadays. I know it’s always less attractive to address real problems rather than arguing about trivia, but how about we all try?